People Power: What makes humans happy? - Nov 2018
By Sam Allman
It’s January, so it’s time to reflect on our vision: what we want and where we want to go; what’s on our agendas and our to-do lists; and what we want for our futures. It’s time to take action so that 2018 will be a great and productive year. It’s time to get focused on creating the results that we need or want for our futures. Of course, what we all want and what we want for our children is to be happy. There is no question that accomplishment, achievement and recognition not only motivate us, but they also affect our state of happiness. Happiness appears to be the ultimate desired result.
Kemp Harr ended 2017 with some profound thoughts in his “Viewpoint” column in the December issue of Floor Focus, reminding us that not only should we drive ourselves to achieve, but we should also find joy and happiness in the journey. Living and working for the future (living by vision) is important, but enjoying the moment, the now, is equally essential. Life is nothing but a collection of moments. It’s really all we have. Attitudes like “I’ll be happy when I find my soul mate or when I get promoted or graduate from school or make a million dollars or I retire” sabotage our states of mind and may limit our ability to optimize the results we create in our futures. Alexander Kjerulf in his book, Happy Hour is 9 to 5, writes, “Most people chase success at work, thinking that will make them happy. The truth is that happiness at work will make you successful.” The question is, how can one be happy in the moment when happiness is the goal for the future?
We seek the power to accomplish and achieve. People power implies physical strength; the power to get results, conquer obstacles, influence and challenge people, and eliminate anything standing in the way of accomplishment. But our ability to get results may derive more from our inner and emotional strength than our physical strength. “If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world,” said Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist.
Conquering yourself gives you the power to control your emotions, your thoughts, and therefore your feelings. “Rule your mind, or it will rule you,” wrote Horace, a first-century BC poet. Conquering yourself empowers you to take control of your actions so that they don’t become self-defeating. We all know people who have ruined their lives because they lacked the power to control and manage their inner or emotional states. Most are clueless that it’s their lack of discipline that is the problem, and that the solution is taking the most effective action (that which creates the most desired results) whether they feel like it or not. Here, I could spend time writing about personal effectiveness taught by Stephen R. Covey: being proactive instead of reactive; having a vision (goals) for the future instead of grabbing the “gusto” while you can; and taking high priority actions (those that produce results) instead of just trying to stay busy. But I won’t.
Happiness can be elusive. It can be the result of a serendipitous event or the result of a change of perspective and attitude. It can also be a choice. Everyday living can be hard and stressful. I believe that it takes great inner strength and discipline to choose happiness over sadness; acceptance over frustration; excellence over mediocrity; calmness over anxiety or anger; and hope over despair. “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness, and there is one sure way to find it,” Dale Carnegie writes in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. “That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.”
In order to control our inner conditions, we must first become aware of them. We cannot change unless we know that we need to; we must be mindful of our inner conditions. Mindfulness is a state of observation; it is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. It is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Of what things should we be mindful?
As Kemp wrote, “The holiday season provides a chance for us to step away from all that and live in the here and now: to be mindful of where we are, who we’re with and simply enjoy what’s happening.” Who says we have to wait for the holidays or vacations? Wherever I go, I see people in a hustle and bustle trying to get somewhere without taking their eyes off their cell phones. All around us are sights and wonders. Many of us use the word “awesome.” I suspect that it is misused or at least thrown around too freely. When one is awed, he or she is inspired or enjoys a sense of wonderment, amazement or astonishment. Research shows that experiencing awe makes people happy. It distracts one from self-centered thoughts. You cannot experience awe unless you are mindful and notice what is going on around you. When was the last time you were awed by a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Do you remember the feeling? Did it not lift your spirits?
You can extend that feeling of awe by learning to savor. Learning to savor-enjoying or appreciating something completely, especially by dwelling on it-also has been found to increase happiness and joy. We do it when we eat a delicious meal. We can be awed by a wondrous event or view, and taking additional time to savor the moment enhances the experience. Learning to savor and savoring more often can lighten our load, cheer us up and distract our minds away from our problems.
Years ago, I caught a glimpse of what savoring was. My family was having a typical family gathering at my parents’ home. With five siblings, spouses and who knows how many grandchildren at that time (36 eventually), there was always lots of commotion. In one moment, I noticed my father gazing intently like a lion admiring his pride, surveying and relishing the goings on. He was obviously savoring the moment. His countenance expressed sheer joy. For me, it created a memory that I shall never forget. I knew my dad loved his family. I think we all need to savor more often.
Feelings are real. Telling someone that they shouldn’t feel a certain way is ineffective. Thoughts create feelings. If you want to change how someone feels about something, get them to change the thoughts that are causing the feelings. As the great American psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” That’s why empathy is so powerful. Have you ever judged someone harshly and then learned of their troubles and suddenly your feelings about them softened? Our thoughts shape how we feel. That’s why it is so important to be mindful of our thoughts; they can affect our happiness.
Our happiness is shaped by how we think about our lives and our situations. Our thoughts can be focused on what we lack or our problems, or we can focus our thinking on what we have and what’s working. As William James also said, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” Research confirms that having an attitude of gratitude increases happiness. Choosing to be mindful of one’s blessings is another method of increasing power over self. Our natural tendency is to focus on what we are lacking. It is called “the disease of more.” We will be happy if we have more money, more toys or more stuff. However, that’s why happiness is elusive even for the rich and famous. Happiness can be generated by gratitude. That’s why poor people with literally nothing can have the same level of happiness as those who have everything their hearts desire. Consider the old adage, “I was unhappy because I had no shoes, and then I saw someone with no feet.” Gratitude is generated by perspective. Try it more often. You may see how it lifts your spirit on a difficult day.
Mindfulness also means being aware when a serendipitous event occurs that seems especially designed for you. I call them “tender mercies.” Noticing them touches the soul and brings joy. For the last several years, I have been concerned that I would not be around when my aging parents passed away. I felt guilty that my family was helping my parents in their latter years because I was absent-I lived 2,000 miles away. But, then came Hurricane Irma. We were evacuated from our home.
We decided to make a road trip out west to see our families. My parents lived together in an assisted living facility. They needed help daily with just the basics. Because I was there, I decided to just enjoy being in their presence. I helped when needed to give a break to the staff and the other members of the family that assisted daily. I never left the facility. After ten days, my father started going downhill and soon passed away. I was there. Five days later, my mother passed away. I was there. A joint funeral honored their lives and celebrated their love. I was there. Not only did I savor the last three weeks I had with them, but also I am so grateful for the experience. I was there. I visited, ate, slept and reminisced with them the last three weeks of their lives. It was a tender mercy. What tender mercies have you become mindful of in your life?
We have a constant companion-one that never ever leaves us. It sticks with us, staying even closer than our shadows. This constant companion is our mental chatter-the words that our mind speaks to us the moment we open our eyes in the morning and continue until we close our eyes at night. More often than we’d like, these words prevent us from going to sleep. Sometimes we don’t even notice what is said, but the words can have a huge impact on our inner state; they can inspire us to perform at higher levels or cause us to give up and quit.
Mindfulness means that we monitor that inner chatter. We are hardest on ourselves. When we fail, we beat ourselves up: I am ugly; I am stupid; I’ll never amount to anything; I will never find someone to love me. We must be aware of the destructive things we say to ourselves. Words matter. If we don’t challenge our chatter, we come to believe that the words are true. Research verifies that taking control of that chatter-disputing what it says and making different explanations-is a central skill of optimism. Our internal self-talk should inspire persistence and generate hope instead of helplessness. Hope keeps one from quitting and gives us the will to get through difficult times. Does your chatter make you feel better or worse? Are you mindful of what your mind is saying? Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that are part of life is central to taking control of your inner state. Lao Tzu once said, “He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”
Mindfulness is the first step in self-mastery. Remember that mindfulness is a skill and can be learned. It’s the first step in learning to control our minds and is the key to personal power. Happy people are more successful. Why not choose happiness?
Copyright 2018 Floor Focus